Despite Mustafa Setmariam Nasar’s (“Abu Mus’ab al-Suri”) arrest, which likely happened months ago, his work as one of the most important (and few) jihadi strategic thinkers of this era will continue to inspire and define Islamic militancy well into the future. Beyond his work’s popularity in online jihadi communities (certain to grow after his arrest), Nasar’s writing is especially germane owing to its rational style and seeming applicability.
Da’wat al-muqawamah al-islamiyyah al-‘alamiyyah (The Call for a Global Islamic Resistance), Nasar’s 1600-page magnum opus, written over a two-year research “sabbatical,” is noteworthy given its pseudo-academic style and “egalitarian” conception of future jihad. I mentioned this two weeks ago in a post highlighting the defining work on Nasar, Brynjar Lia’s “The al-Qaida Strategist Abu Mus’ab al-Suri: A Profile.” In some ways, Nasar’s writing reminds us of the late Saudi jihadist Yusuf al-Ayiri’s, especially since both not only preached, but actually participated in jihad. However, Nasr is perhaps less dogmatic than al-Ayiri (the latter was known for his rhetorical attacks on Shi’a) and more global in perspective (Ayiri was highly-focused on the Gulf, especially the U.S. invasion of Iraq). These qualities elevate Nasr’s work far above that of strategic and theological poseurs like Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi, whose vitriol, lack of theoretical depth and narrow focus appeal largely to a more adolescent caste of militants. In contrast, more sophisticated or pragmatic jihadis might appreciate Nasar’s somewhat scholarly and direct analysis, which perhaps reflect his familiarity with the West, or his background as a London-based journalist.
In particular, Nasar’s call for “nizam, la tanzim” (system, not organization), articulated in chapter eight of his book (and covered extensively by Lia), is critically important as it contrasts the largely-Egyptian model of regionally-focused elite jihadi vanguards determined to seize power from the top —an aspiration derived from Sayyid Qutb’s writings that define Ayman al-Zawahiri’s Egyptian heyday. Instead, Nasar sketches a new de-territorialized system of fighting suited to the complexities of the global battlefield and cognizant of the trials of the ummah: “Jihad of Individualized [or cellular] Terrorism.” With this concept Nasar cogently proffers a vision of future jihad guided by a global narrative and strategic direction (much as we have witnessed lately from bin Laden and al-Zawahiri) and a “comprehensive (self-) education program” absent the structural, organizational and leadership impediments typically present in more robust and inter-connected global networks. Nasar’s “system” is safer, more effective, simpler to enact and it feeds on the pre-existing ideological superstructure of the global jihad. No jihadi strategist has ever articulated this autonomous, self-contained and ideas-driven system of fighting so clearly; Abu Ubayd al-Qurayshi’s adaptation of William S. Lind’s fourth generation warfare theory might come the closest (even if Nasar’s work could be seen as the fulfillment of al-Qurayshi’s). In some ways, Nasar’s theories also reflect “commander’s intent,” a military concept central to fourth generation warfare that guides special operations forces working for long periods in the adversary’s territory, far-removed from their command structures and under deep cover (although Nasar, of course, sees formal command structures as entirely antithetical to effective warfare and argues for an “everyman’s” jihad, not that of elite fighting forces).
As witnessed in the London and Madrid attacks, Nasar’s model has already proven influential: both seemingly draw from his organizational paradigm and the advice he gives to “cell builders” (also noted by Lia). The U.S. intelligence community would do well to translate the entirety of Nasar’s book, beginning with chapter eight. It would also be of enormous value to the entire CT community if anyone with an English translation (complete or partial) of The Call for a Global Islamic Resistance would be willing to share it. My pledge would be to post it on the CT Blog’s library and give complete anonymity to the source (if so desired).